A little while back I was having a bit of a chat about underage drinking on BBC Tees. We’d covered most content and were saying our goodbye’s when I was asked the perfectly reasonable question “why do young people drink more in the North East?”
It’s a question that should be a no-brainer. I was a young person in the North East who drank too much. I spend a lot of time nowadays talking to young people in the North East who drink too much. They message me, we chat. They talk on camera, I listen. It’s a question I’ve skirted around on North East radio shows a great deal, (more so than anywhere else). So why had it suddenly hit me this hard that I’d never properly, consciously considered the answer?
Cos let’s face it, I consider what isn’t the answer all the fecking time. I see how badly we are getting it wrong. So wrong to the point it’s almost reassuring that we are getting the results we get. Because our approach is almost laughable.
Almost. Laughable. Almost. Until we see drunk 9 year olds in our hospital beds and police cars. Tangible evidence of our broken babies and what we have done to them by getting it this wrong.
So as erudite as I no doubt sounded giving “Erm” as my answer I should really have said this.
It’s a rite of passage. We have a false premise in the North East that teenage drinking is a rite of passage. I have not done one interview on a North East show where this phrase hasn’t been used. I’ve never had it said to me in any other part of the country. We really have been conditioned to believe that it’s part of our culture and heritage. That we are denying our kids if they don’t get to partake in it.
We chronically underreact. To everything. We view “making a fuss over nothing” as a sin. We’d rather wait until there is irrefutably a problem before interfering. And there are some areas we can let this happen. But not drinking. Not with young people. The cost is now too great.
We are terrible communicators. The older generations are anyway. If there is a problem we don’t talk about it in case we draw attention to it. We stop looking at it in the hope i will go away. Kids are used to sharing everything on social networking sites. they are much more transparent than we are. It’s a source of massive frustration to them.
We have no other options. We do not put money into evening activities in our communities. Kids are bored. Drinking is cheap. Cheaper than anything else on offer around them leisure- wise by far. And it’s sad. Because it wouldn’t cost the earth. If kids want to knock about a coffee shop of an evening in London then they can. Because they are open past 6 o’clock. Why can’t we do that for our kids in the North East? Where is the hope for them if we don’t even try to show them other options?
Don’t be different Being seen as different in the North east is something that is avoided at all costs. The aggression that is displayed when faced with this supposed “difference” is something quite formidable. Thinking differently to peers. Speaking differently. Wanting different things out of life than what you’ve been brought up with. It’s sad in many ways, but with drinking it’s f*cking dangerous. Kids are dying-literally- dying to fit in.
Put all of these cultural idiosyncrasies together. Then add to the mix our shockingly bad weather. Yes it makes a difference. The weather is sh*t most of the time, rendering cheaper outdoor activities that other areas with similarly limited budgets but good weather enjoy totally impossible. Standing around in the cold with nothing to do for hours on end is a lot easier with a litre of cider inside you.
There’s more to say. There is always more to say. But really is comes down to this:
Why do children drink more in the North East?
Because we don’t just make it easy for them to.
We make it f*cking impossible for them not to.